If there is to be a global transition from combustion-engined to electrically powered cars, it has not thus far proved quick, smooth or particularly profitable for the car makers leading the field - so can the launch of the Renault Zoe change that?

The most viable EV to have undergone the Autocar road test so far is unquestionably the Nissan Leaf, yet it has proven a tough sell – limited not only by the inherent range dilemma, but also by an initially high asking price that pigeonholed it as an early-adopter extravagance rather than a truly mass-market car. 

Renault's involvement in EVs is now extensive. Underwritten by the billion-pound investment made by the Renault-Nissan Alliance in an EV programme, the brand publicly kicked off its ZE (Zero Emissions) programme with a series of concepts that included previews of the Zoe the Twizy. 

The commercial Kangoo ZE and saloon-shaped Fluence ZE entered production first, in 2011. The Fluence faltered due to the financial collapse of its battery swapping network, but the Kangoo was named Van of the Year in 2012.

With the Renault Zoe, the French half of the Renault-Nissan Alliance is attempting to break through. Its car, conceived as electric from the outset rather than adapted from a combustion-engined model, is supermini-sized.

It has broadly similar range and performance to the Leaf but, like most of Renault’s EVs thus far, will be part-sold and part-leased via a battery rental scheme. Which means that, with the continued assistance of the government’s EV grant, the Zoe can actually be had for supermini money.

So is the Renault Zoe a potential tipping point or a car still hamstrung from the outset?

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